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Sir Keir Starmer not at all robotic, ally says after jibe from audience member

Sir Keir Starmer speaking to the audience during a Sky News election event (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Sir Keir Starmer speaking to the audience during a Sky News election event (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Sir Keir Starmer’s allies have come out to defend him after he was accused of being a “political robot” during an election broadcast debate.

An audience member at Sky News’ Battle For No 10 programme said he admired “how in touch with the public” the Labour leader appeared when he was director of public prosecutions, but claimed he had since lost faith in Sir Keir.

The Labour leader was left briefly speechless by the remark before he answered the audience member.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow paymaster general, denied his boss had appeared robotic in the exchange, and pointed to the “incredibly moving” personal stories of his family Sir Keir had shared.

During the Sky programme, the audience member spoke of his previous admiration for Sir Keir, before adding: “But over the last year I feel like you have formed into more of a politician than the person I would have voted for to run the country.

“You seem more like a political robot. How are you going to convince others like me to vote for you?”

In his response, Sir Keir spoke of his time as the director of public prosecutions, and said he would not apologise for changing the Labour Party.

He told the audience: “I think it probably is a result of coming into politics late, because I am not tribally political, I actually do believe there are good people who vote other than Labour who want their family, their community, and their country to go forward.”

“You don’t seem to answer the question,” the man replied.

Elsewhere, the Labour leader revealed his wife Victoria did not want him to enter politics after he finished his job as the UK’s chief prosecutor.

He told Sky News: “My wife was ringing adverts in the papers about well-paid lawyers’ jobs and I said ‘no, I want to serve my country’, which is why, at a late stage, I came into politics to serve my country.”

Sir Keir Starmer during a Sky News election event with Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, during a Sky News election event with Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby, in Grimsby (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Asked if his wife was not keen on him to do politics, Sir Keir replied: “No she wasn’t at all, she thought it’d be far better to continue being a lawyer on a reasonable salary and not have all of the challenges that you get as a politician.

“But I was clear in my mind, I wanted to come into politics because I wanted to serve my country.”

Asked about his biggest fear if he becomes prime minister, Sir Keir replied: “The only real fear I suppose I have is for my family.”

He said his son is almost 16 years old and his daughter 13, adding these are “really difficult ages” for children.

Sir Keir said: “My only fear really is the impact it’s going to have on them. That’s why we never name them in public, never have a photoshoot with them, I want them to be able to walk to school and have their own lives.

“I don’t fear the big decisions, in fact I relish the chance to change our country.”

Speaking to journalists in the post-broadcast spin room, Mr Ashworth was confronted with questions about Sir Keir’s brief pause after being branded robotic.

“He had a bit of a smile on his face and he had a bit of a chuckle himself,” the Labour frontbencher said.

“That is not particularly robotic behaviour, that is human behaviour.”

Mr Ashworth also praised Sir Keir for talking about his personal life, telling journalists: “And actually, I thought a bit in that interview this evening, when he talked about his children – his son and his daughter – in the same way I’ve got two daughters, I’ve got a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old and I could entirely identify with what he is saying.”

He added: “When he spoke, I thought that was incredibly moving and nothing robotic about it at all.”